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"I don't think anything in civilian life can prepare you for combat casualties." (Video Interview, 14:19)

   Joan Furey
Image of Joan Furey
Joan Furey [2002]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 71st Evacuation Hospital
Service Location: San Francisco, California; Fort Meade, Maryland; Pleiku, Vietnam
Rank: First Lieutenant
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A year out of nursing school, Joan Furey was working an Intensive Care Unit in a hospital in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Her year there was an accelerated course in applied nursing techniques. Both the intensity of her daily shifts and the democratic nature of her unit, where nurses were given decision-making latitude by the doctors in the interests of serving the patients, spoiled her for civilian nursing in more relaxed and structured surroundings. She came to discover a delayed reaction to the stress of her wartime experiences and gained a better understanding of postwar trauma suffered by the soldiers she had treated.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (10 clips)
»Complete Interview   (93 min.)
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»Women of Four Wars
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (10 items)
Growing awareness of the Vietnam War; guys she knew were drafted, a classmate was killed; wanting to apply her nursing skills to the injured. (03:27) Not prepared for dealing with combat casualties; her experience before that had been in geriatrics. (01:57) Her “overwhelming” first day in the intensive care unit; her first patient had spinal cord injuries and was in a special bed; support from other nurses and corpsmen on how to handle the complicated care. (03:15)
Procedures for protecting the patients when the hospital came under attack or was on alert for an attack; very hard not to feel connected to the patients; dealing with civilian casualties. (03:40) Delayed reaction to the stress; learning to detach in the moment from the many horrible, life-altering injuries to young men she witnessed; the “purity” of the commitment, being totally focused on the work; involved with raising funds for the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, DC; seeing a former patient at the dedication. (07:46) Good relationships with the doctors; small staff meant interdependence and a democratic approach to decision-making; nurses were allowed to wake a doctor if they felt a patient was “going bad;” they did socialize off-hours. (02:44)
After initially finding everything overwhelming, realizing she had to do her job; by the time she left, she thought of herself as a “crackerjack” ICU nurse; hard to articulate what to say to patients whose future would be limited by their injuries; toward the end of her tour, losing her detachment; realizing what a terrible tragedy all wars are. (05:21) Hard time readjusting to civilian nursing; more subservient relationship with doctors; her view of patients was less generous, since she had seen injured soldiers trying to recover and not complaining about their wounds; left nursing for a while and regrouped in school on the GI Bill; advice from a WWII veteran nurse. (05:14) No one to talk to about her experiences in Vietnam; briefly involved with Vietnam Veterans Against the War; getting help years later at a Vet Center in Florida; dealing with her feelings of pain, balancing her own against that of the patients she nursed in the war. (04:11)
Going back to Vietnam with four nurse friends on a cruise; a way of getting closure on her experiences; country was recovering and people were welcoming; seeing places she associated with horror turned into tourist attractions was disconcerting; seeing a memorial to Vietnamese veterans and comparing it to the ones in Washington. (04:01)  
  
 
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  October 26, 2011
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